Nation roundup for January 8
Health spending is holding steady
WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans kept health care spending in check for three years in a row, the government reported Monday, an unusual respite that could linger if the economy stays soft or fade if job growth comes roaring back.
The nation’s health care tab stood at $2.7 trillion in 2011, the latest year available, said nonpartisan number crunchers with the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s 17.9 percent of the economy, which averages out to $8,680 for every man, woman and child, far more than any other economically advanced country spends.
Still, it was the third straight year of historically low increases in the United States. The 3.9 percent increase meant that health care costs grew in line with the overall economy in 2011 instead of surging ahead as they normally have during a recovery. A health care bill that grows at about the same rate as the economy is affordable; one that surges ahead is not.
The respite means President Barack Obama and Congress have a window to ease in tighter cost controls this year, if they can manage to reach a broader agreement on taxes and spending. Health care spending is projected to spike up again in 2014, as Obama’s law covering the uninsured takes full effect, before settling down to a new normal.
Feds spent $18B on immigration
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration spent more money on immigration enforcement in the last fiscal year than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, according to a report on the government’s enforcement efforts from a Washington think tank.
The report on Monday from the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan group focused on global immigration issues, said in the 2012 budget year that ended in September the government spent about $18 billion on immigration enforcement programs run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US-Visit program, and Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol.
Immigration enforcement topped the combined budgets of the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Secret Service by about $3.6 billion dollars, the report’s authors said.
Since then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 — which legalized more than 3 million illegal immigrants and overhauled immigration laws — the government has spent more than $187 billion on immigration enforcement.
Oil drilling barge pulled off rocks
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill vessel pulled from rocks off a remote Alaska island reached shelter Monday morning in a Kodiak Island bay. The Kulluk was lifted off rocks at 10:10 p.m. Sunday.
It reached its anchoring point about 12 hours later in Kiliuda Bay, where it’s out of the worst of waves and wind offered by the Gulf of Alaska.
Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield says the vessel came off the grounding relatively easy under tow by the 360-foot anchor handler Aiviq. Salvors reported swells of 15 feet, which diminished after the vessels reached protected waters.
The trip covered about 45 nautical miles at about 4 mph. The Kulluk was attached to a second vessel, a tugboat, after it reached the bay.
Lottery winner died from cyanide
CHICAGO (AP) — With no signs of trauma and nothing to raise suspicions, the sudden death of a Chicago man just as he was about to collect nearly $425,000 in lottery winnings was initially ruled a result of natural causes.
Nearly six months later, authorities have a mystery on their hands after medical examiners, responding to a relative’s pleas, did an expanded screening and determined that Urooj Khan, 46, died shortly after ingesting a lethal dose of cyanide. The finding has triggered a homicide investigation, the Chicago Police Department said Monday.
“It’s pretty unusual,” said Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina, commenting on the rarity of cyanide poisonings. “I’ve had one, maybe two cases out of 4,500 autopsies I’ve done.”
In June, Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, stopped in at a 7-Eleven near his home and bought the winning ticket for an instant lottery game.
He scratched off the ticket, then jumped up and down and repeatedly shouted, “I hit a million,” Khan recalled days later during a ceremony in which Illinois Lottery officials presented him with an oversized check. He said he was so overjoyed he ran back into the store and tipped the clerk $100.
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